French in Brooklyn Part I

When I lived in Brooklyn, I adored mon petit quartier français: my little French neighborhood nestled into Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. We enjoyed French cafés, bars and restaurants, and even heard little school children speaking French in the streets as there is a bilingual school in the area: P.S. 58 The Carroll School.

Every Bastille Day since 2006, they close off Smith street for a pétanque tournament and the French establishments serve their Frenchest food and drink. Check out Bar Tabac’s website for more information.

Recently, a French TV station mentioned ce petit coin as a francophone destination:

TV5 Monde Destination Francophonie #115: Brooklyn

Notice the yellow café in the video? That’s Provence en Boîte. While there are many French restaurants in Brooklyn, this one was my favorite. I loved this place so much my husband and I had our last breakfast there before moving to Paris. Oui, c’est un resto francais, bien sûr. We simply had to have our last café et croissant before heading to the motherland.

Here is a post, or a love letter really, that I wrote to Provence en Boîte on my old blog Le Quartier Français à Brooklyn before we left for la tour Eiffel:

“Even from the outside, it’s easy to see that Provence en Boîte has a bright character all its own. Quite literally a sunflower-yellow box plopped down on the corner of Smith and Degraw in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, this petit bistro warmly welcomes every passer-by to come in and discover the delights of Provence.

Installez-vous sur la terrasse

Installez-vous sur la terrasse!

Guests are seated at simple copper-topped tables and served water from French bottles. The golden colored walls are covered with eclectic paintings and photographs of Provence and Brooklyn, while antique French tins and bottles of Ricard and Lillet line the wooden shelves. Diners are tempted by the glass case at the center of the restaurant filled with fruit tarts, éclairs and decadent chocolate pastries. Above the pastry display sit rows of puffy croissants, glistening pains au chocolats and fresh baguettes just begging to be taken away.

As a resident of the neighborhood, I myself am drawn to this sanctuary like a moth to a lamp. Every brunch experience there is filled with fluffy egg and creamy goat cheese omelets, real French bread, rich espresso, perfectly vinegretted salad and mimosas that taste like sunlight on your tongue. I often see Jean-Jacques and Leslie, the charming French owners and executive chef (Jean-Jacques), making their rounds to the tables, saying “bonjour” and making sure that everything is delicious. Sometimes even les petits, their young children Andrea and Jacques, come around to collect the bill. Quite possibly they are in training to take over the restaurant from their parents one day.

Not one to forego new dining prospects, I noticed one evening that the yellow bistro is open for dinner as well. My boyfriend and I decided to stop in and see what was being served. Transformed for the evening with lights dimmed, a candle flickering on every table, and a track of smooth jazz playing, we found ourselves in a slightly more sophisticated version of the daytime hotspot.

Entrez!

Entrez!

That evening we were the only diners, but instead of feeling awkward it seemed as if the place had been reserved especially for us. We both ended up choosing the prix fixe menu, which was $22 for soup or salad, fish or entrée of the day, and crème brûlée for dessert.

The smooth and attentive waiter swiftly brought us our house salads with dark mixed greens and cherry tomatoes, which were to the same acidic perfection as when ordered during the day. Next for my boyfriend was the chicken special: a large thigh with crispy golden skin in a red wine reduction sauce, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and slices of savory portabella mushrooms. Quel paradis! On my plate sat a generous portion of thick buttery white monkfish smothered with an olive tapenade atop a chunky bed of ratatouille. The olive oil infused vegetables burst with flavor and complimented the fish superbly.

Topping off the evening with a bit of sugar, we gladly savored the vanilla custard of our home made crème brûlées down to the very last spoonful. Well, I savored. My boyfriend gobbled ravenously.

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

At the end of our lovely meal after paying our bill and saying our merci’s, I couldn’t help but notice chef Jean-Jacques sitting in the back of the restaurant watching a French drama on TV5. That evening, as he was privately enjoying a little bit of home, I hope he knew that Provence en Boîte had also brought a little bit of France to us.”

263 Smith St (at Degraw)

Brooklyn, NY 11231

Metro: F or G to Carroll St

http://www.provenceenboite.com/

What’s your favorite French place in Brooklyn?

Stay tuned for Part II!

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

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